Florida Gator Quarterbacks Through the Years
There have been three Heisman Trophy winners in the history of University of Florida football, and at last Saturday's "Orange & Blue Debut" Spring game statues honoring them were unveiled outside The Swamp.
The three of those HeisMen were Gator quarterbacks. But they aren't the only passers in UF history to have successful college careers. With apologies to John Reaves and Wayne Peace (photos of whom were not available). Here is a look at 10 of the best quarterbacks in Florida history.
Steve Spurrier (1964-66)
Known more now as SEC East champion South Carolina's coach/offensive mastermind, Steve Spurrier also was an outstanding quarterback for the Gators.
The 1966 Heisman Trophy winner, Spurrier's legend in Gainesville had one of its first high point that season. That's because he waved off the team's starting kicker and booted the game-winning 40-yard field goal himself in a 30-27 victory against Auburn.
Playing for coach Ray Graves, Spurrier completed 392-of-692 attempts for 4,848 passing yards and 37 touchdowns to go along with 442 rushing yards in his college career.
Interestingly, Spurrier's final game as a Gator player and coach took place in the Orange Bowl in Miami, the same city he was born on April 20, 1945
Kerwin Bell (1983-87)
Born in the tiny town of Live Oak, Fla., about 90 minutes outside of Gainesville, Kerwin Bell always wanted to be a Gator quarterback.
He had to take a more difficult route than most - as a walk on - to get there.
A graduate of Lafayette (Fla.) High School in Mayo, Fla., Bell earned the moniker "The Throwin' Mayoan" after rising from eighth on coach Galen Hall's depth chart to the starting role in 1984 as a redshirt freshman.
Inducted into the University of Florida's Hall of Fame as a "Gator Great" in 1997, Bell played professionally for 14 years. He competed in the NFL with the Dolphins (who selected him in the seventh round of the 1988 NFL Draft), the Falcons, Bucs and Colts, as well as in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League.
Bell is now the head coach at Jacksonville University.
Shane Matthews (1990-92)
After moving from fifth to first on then-new coach Steve Spurrier's quarterback depth chart, Matthews went on to become a three-time All-Southeastern Conference selection, set a then-team-record for career passing yards and finished fifth in the 1991 Heisman Trophy balloting.
A team captain his senior season, the Pascagoula, Miss. native finished his college career having completed 722-of-1,202 passes for 9,287 yards and 74 touchdowns (a passer rating of 137.6). He was named the SEC player of the year in 1991 and 1992.
After NFL teams expressed concern with his arm strength, Matthews went undrafted in 1993, but went on to prove he belonged.
Matthews was on rosters for the Chicago Bears (1993-96, 1999-2001), the Carolina Panthers (1997-98), the Washington Redskins (2002), the Cincinnati Bengals (2003), the Buffalo Bills (2004-05) and the Miami Dolphins (2006). His best season came with the Bears in 1999, where he threw for 1,645 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven starts. And his one year in D.C. was playing for Spurrier.
He retired twice - after the 2005 season and following the 2007 season. Matthews finished his professional career having completed 492-of-839 attempts, for 4,756 yards and 31 touchdowns.
In 2002 Matthews was inducted into the University of Florida's Hall of Fame as a "Gator Great" in 2002.
Danny Wuerffel (1993-96)
Who is the greatest quarterback in Gator history?
The argument probably comes down to two players. Tim Tebow, and this man, Danny Wuerffel.
The son of a military chaplain, Wuerffel wasn't the greatest athlete, had only average arm strength and a funky release. Still, No. 7 is revered in Gator annals not for what he couldn't do, but for all he did.
The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner, Wuerffel led UF to its first appearance in a national title game (losing to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl following the 1995 season) and its first championship (a year later, topping archrival Florida State in the Sugar Bowl).
A two-time All American and four-time SEC champion, he finished his career at Florida having completed 708-of-1,170 passes for 10,875 yards, a record 163.56 passer efficiency rating, 114 touchdown passes, at the time the best in SEC history and second-most in major college history.
Wuerffel was a fourth round selection of New Orleans in 1997 and was with the Saints through 1999. After a stint in NFL Europe with the Rhein Fire (2000, where he was named MVP of World Bowl XIII), the Green Bay Packers (2000), the Chicago Bears (2001) and the Washington Redskins (under his college coach Stete Spurrier, in 2002).
Since retiring, Wuerffel has made his mark helping those in need through his New Orleans-based Desire Street Ministries. He also was one of the original four members placed in the Gator Ring of Honor in 2006, along with Spurrier, former running back Emmitt Smith and former defensive lineman Jack Youngblood.
Doug Johnson (1996-99)
Not many kids growing up in Gainesville, Fla. actually get to grow up and become the quarterback for the hometown Florida Gators.
Doug Johnson lived that dream.
An alum of Buchholz High School where he played for coach Bob Smith, Johnson actually lived out part of another dream before he ever sprinted onto Florida Field. A third baseman, he was drafted in the second round of the 1996 Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
He batted .215 in 62 Rookie League games spanning the 1996 and '97 seasons before missing the 1998 season with a torn rotator cuff. He announced in a statement released by the University of Florida on Jan. 15, 1999 that he was taking the summer off to work out with the Gators' football team. At that point, he said he was putting his baseball career "on hold", but he never did return.
While playing baseball for Tampa Bay, he also was playing football for Florida.
As the on-and-off (mostly on) starter for coach Steve Spurrier from 1996-99, Johnson completed 504-of-907 passes for 7,114 yards with 62 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.
He wasn't selected in the 2000 NFL Draft, but signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons, with whom he played until 2003. While in Atlanta, Johnson started 11 games and threw for 2,600 yards. He suited up for the Tennessee Titans in 2004 and briefly was on the rosters of the Cleveland Browns (2005) and Cincinnati Bengals (2006), but hasn't played since.
Jesse Palmer (1997-2000)
Canadian-born Jesse Palmer was passing out touchdowns long before he was handing out roses.
Prior to his days as The Bachelor on ABC's reality show in the Spring of 2004 (the relationship with show winner Jessica Bowlin didn't work out), Palmer was a quarterback tutored by Steve Spurrier.
While at UF from 1997-200, Palmer often split time (first) with Doug Johnson and (later) with Rex Grossman, was a three-time member of the SEC's Academic Honor Roll and completed 254-of-459 passes for 3,755 yards with 31 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Perhaps his best game came in 2000 when he had a combined 238 passing and rushing yards, ran for four touchdowns and completed a 75-yard touchdown pass to teammate Bo Carroll, a former sprint champion.
Palmer was drafted by the New Your Giants in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft. He was there until 2004, primarily as a backup to Kerry Collins (though during his stint in the Big Apple, Palmer did become the second Canadian-born quarterback - after Mark Rypien - to start in the NFL).
He was released by the Giants in September of 2005, but soon after had workouts with the Oakland Raiders and the Minnesota Vikings before signing with the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad to finish the season.
In 2006 Palmer considered playing in the Canadian Football League, like his father, Bill, did, and the Montreal Alouettes held Jesse's rights. However, he never played a game in the CFL and retired from football to pursue a broadcasting career.
He worked for Fox and The NFL Network before signing on with ESPN and ABC, where he currently is employed.
Rex Grossman (1999-2002)
A quarterback at Bloomington (Ind.) High School South, Rex Grossman and his father, Daniel, took a trip to Gainesville, Fla. one summer. Their hope was to drop off some tape at the University of Florida's football offices and maybe get some face time with an assistant coach.
It turns out Steve Spurrier was in his office that day and agreed to sit down with father and son to watch Rex's video.
The head ball coach saw an incredibly strong arm, a quick release and was sold. Soon after, Grossman was a state champion, Indiana's Mr. Football, a Parade All American and best of all for Spurrier... a future Gator, spurning homestate Indiana, where his father and grandfather had played.
After redshirting his first year at Florida, Grossman was a part-time starter in 2000 before leading UF to a 10-2 record and an Orange Bowl championship in 2002 (Spurrier's final game before resigning). That season, Grossman finished second to Nebraska's Eric Crouch in the closest Heisman Trophy balloting ever to take place, as the two quarterbacks were separated by 62 votes. Also the Associated Press player of the year, that season Grossman also played in perhaps the most memorable game of his college career - a 44-15 victory in the rain against LSU where he completed 22-of-32 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns.
Grossman's junior year also was his last at UF and coach Ron Zook's first. The Gators reached the Outback Bowl that season, as Grossman finished his college career having completed 677-of-1,110 passes for 9,164 yards with 77 touchdowns and 31 interceptions, as well as a 23-8 record as a starter.
Drafted in the first round (22nd overall) by the Chicago Bears, Grossman was in the Windy City until 2008. Along the way, he was named the NFL's player of the month in September of 2006 and helped Chicago reach Super Bowl XLI later that year.
Grossman spent 2009 as a backup for the Houston Texans and 2010 as a part-time starter for the Washington Redskins. In his entire (still active) career, Grossman has completed 598-of-1,104 passes for 7,081 yards with 40 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.
Chris Leak (2003-06)
After a record-setting career at Charlotte Independence High School that included three North Carolina Class 4-A titles, Chris Leak signed a national letter of intent, vowing at the U.S. Army All-Star Game to win a national championship with coach Ron Zook.
Leak got it half-right.
Zook was dismissed two years later, and Leak eventually did get that BCS title - only Urban Meyer was the coach when Leak was named the offensive Most Outstanding Player after Florida topped Ohio State, 41-14, in Glendale, Ariz.
In between, Leak had a very good career.
He went 6-3 as a true freshman starter and followed that up with a strong sophomore season that included a school-record-tying six-touchdown passes against South Carolina.
A dropback passer with not exactly speedy feet, Leak struggled early with Meyer's spread offense - a system that required quarterback mobility. However, by the time Leak was a senior, he was more comfortable and also had an eager freshman named Tim Tebow willing to run the ball on those tough third-and-short plays.
By the time his college career was over, Leak completed 895-of-1,458 passes for 11,213 yards with 88 touchdowns and 42 interceptions. His overall quarterback rating was 140.1.
Leak was not selected in the 2007 NFL Draft, but caught on with the Chicago Bears through the preseason. He was released on Sept. 16, 2007. A year later he tried to earn his way onto the Kansas City Chiefs' roster, but was unsuccessful.
Leak was a sixth-round draft pick of Team Florida in the All American Football League, but the AAFL had to fold before a game was played due to funding issues.
He was signed by the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats on June 3, 2008, but was released five days later. On June 9, 2008, he signed with the Montreal Alouettes, where he won a Grey Cup in 2009, and Leak remains with that team to this day.
It's a long way from Makati City to the NFL, but Tim Tebow has done it, and along the way he might have become the greatest player ever to wear the orange and blue.
The youngest of five children, Tebow was born in The Philippines, but moved to Jacksonville at an early age. He had an aptitude for both football and baseball, and by the time his senior year arrived, the Ponte Vedra Beach Nease standout was, along with Mitch Mustain and Matthew Stafford, one of the top quarterback prospects in the country.
Tebow finished his prep career with a then-state record of 98 touchdown passes, a mark later broken by his eventual replacement at UF, Ocala Trinity Catholic's John Brantley (whose 99 touchdown passes was later topped by Gainesville Oak Hall's Will Indianos). After seriously considering Alabama, Tebow signed a national letter of intent with Florida, where his childhood idol, Danny Wuerffel, won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship a decade earlier.
As a freshman, Tebow backed up Chris Leak and primarily was used when UF needed a late-down running play. And in that season's 41-14 BCS Championship Game victory against Ohio State, he rushed for and threw for a touchdown.
He took over the starting role the next season, becoming the first-ever sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. That said, the season wasn't completely perfect, as Florida struggled to an unGatorlike 9-4 record.
Tebow was the Heisman favorite entering his junior year and ended the balloting with the most first place votes. However, he wound up finishing third to Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
Still, that was a trade Tebow was willing to make, as UF ended the season topping Bradford's Sooners, 24-14, in the BCS title game (which took place in Miami). That came a few months after a home loss to Mississippi where the quarterback made a memorable postgame promise to lead his team to play harder than any other.
At the team's national championship celebration in The Swamp, Tebow announced he was coming back for his senior year. And that season he led the Gators to a Sugar Bowl victory and finished fifth in the Heisman voting, giving him a remarkable three top-5 finishes.
Tebow finished his college career 661-of-995 for 9,285 yards with 88 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He also carried the ball 692 times for 2,947 yards and 57 touchdowns.
He was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft (25th overall) by the Denver Broncos. A backup for all but three games as a rookie, Tebow finished last season 41-of-82 for 654 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He also carried 43 times for 227 yards and six scores.
Who's No. 1? Wuerffel or Tebow?
So, who had the better college career?
Wuerffel has said Tebow, and Tebow has said Wuerffel.
Either way, Florida couldn't lose.
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